Sunday, January 18, 2015

Mississippi Blues Half Marathon - Race Recap

   This past weekend, Dudley and I headed down to Jackson, MS for the Mississippi Blues Half Marathon. Jackson is about a six hour drive from Nashville. It's not a bad drive, but definitely about my limit for a weekend race.



   The Mississippi Blues Half has been on my radar for about two years. I've heard great things about it, and it has actually been named one of the races "to do" by Runner's World. It's also supposed to have great swag. Not that I would do a race just for the swag...but it helps.
   Anyway, we got there around 3:00 pm and went straight to the Expo, which was held in the Convention Center. First thing I noticed - everyone was SO NICE! Well, that's not exactly true. The FIRST thing I noticed was a giant blue guitar:

It's the Blues, y'all!

   THEN I noticed how nice everyone was. Seriously. Smiling faces everywhere and all of the volunteers were so helpful. Check in went very quickly without any issues (well except that I thought I lost my phone charger and spent about 20 minutes looking for it, only to find it in the car. Sigh.) Being that I had heard so much about this race, I was surprised at how small the expo was. Not that anything was lacking, but it just surprised me.  However, considering there were only about 4,000 people running, it was actually the perfect size. Along with the standard expo vendors of race organizers and running supplies, there was also a blues band playing (of course). I love themed races.

Expo and check in.

   After the expo, we checked into our hotel, which was about a 1/2 mile from the Convention Center. It seems that Jackson is going through a bit of urban revitalization. We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn, which had been recently been renovated after sitting vacant for a few years (so I was told). While our hotel was very nice, the rest of the block looked like something out of the zombie apocalypse. I'm not joking.

Same street as our hotel - less than a block away.

   Fortunately, there was some road work being done, and new sidewalks poured in areas, so it looks like there is some development going on. This could really be a neat area if it's developed properly. Jackson has some cool architecture. Hopefully, they'll renovate the historic buildings (such as our hotel), rather than tearing everything down like Nashville is doing.

Our hotel is on the right - the former Hotel King Edward.

   Dudley and I did a little walking around, but there wasn't a whole lot of sightseeing to be had, so we went back to the hotel. Funny story - we started talking to another couple (in town for the race) in the elevator about the area and where we could eat dinner. The conversation continued as they arrived at their floor and stepped out. As the man was stating "One area we were warned not to go is...", the door shut. WHAT?! This sounds like information that we NEEDED to know. Fortunately, we happened to find the couple in the lobby a little later on and get the rest of the sentence. They warned us not to walk under some unlit railroad tracks. Uh - yeah. Don't worry about that. Wasn't planning on doing that anyway.
   By nighttime, it was crazy cold and my sweet husband volunteered to go to a local restaurant, the Iron Horse, to pick up dinner. Perfect. I didn't really pack for weather in the teens, so I was all for staying in the warm hotel room. We walked by the Iron Horse earlier and checked out the menu. It's probably one of the nicer places in downtown Jackson. It was good, too. If you're ever there, you should check it out.

The Iron Horse

   Since the race was at 7:00 AM, we pretty much went straight to bed after dinner. Those 5:00 am wakeup calls are never any fun. What was even worse was the TRAIN that went by at 4:00 am. Remember those railroad tracks I mentioned previously? Yeah - those were literally outside of our hotel window. That train woke me right up. Never went back to sleep either.

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From our window. Hello, Tracks!  

   Race morning was mainly spent trying to figure out what to wear. It was currently in the low 20's with a wind chill in the teens. But you warm up quickly when running 13 miles, and I didn't want to over heat. I went with running tights, two shirts (short and long), a hat and gloves. I knew I'd be cold at the start, but really didn't want to have to deal with a running jacket since I knew I'd probably want to take it off.
   We walked down to the start around 6:30. Though I didn't know exactly where the start was, I knew it was by the Convention Center, so we started walking that direction. Before too long we heard, you guessed it, blues music, and knew we were in the right place. 
    The race was too small to have corrals, so we tried to find the 2:00 Half pacer. Again, my plan was to run with the pacer and just see how I did. While my goal was to go sub-2:00 (and so was Dudley's), I'd be happy with breaking my PR of 2:04. It just depended on how hilly the course was. Unfortunately, we never found the 2:00 pacer. Fortunately, we both have Garmins, so it wasn't a big deal.
   After a very bluesy guitar rendition of the National Anthem (I have no idea how he was able to play because it was SO COLD), we were off. While I would love to give you a detailed account of the race course, I can't. I was so focused on warming up and my pace that I have no idea what the course looked like. It was pretty urban for the most part though. We started downtown, ran a few miles and looped back though town before heading out the other way.  From there we kind of went by a highway and actually might have run up an overpass.  I don't really know. My mind was numb by this point. There was some great support on the course, and the volunteers were fantastic - especially since it was so stinking cold. It was hillier than I expected - mostly rolling for the first part, but the hills really kicked in around miles 8-11. Thankfully, miles 12 to the end were pretty flat, if not downhill. Always a blessing.
   As far as my race went, it was great. My racing superpower is that I'm consistent and don't have wild fluctuations in pace. I might slow down because of a hill or something, but once I get a pace locked in, I'm pretty much on autopilot. Since I didn't have a pacer, I tried to maintain a 9:00 pace. That's a little fast for a sub-2:00 Half, but I wanted to give myself a time buffer in case of hills. This strategy went really well. While I was definitely working, I never felt like I was overexerting myself. In an effort to not jinx myself, I only looked at my lap pace (pace at the end of each mile) and distance on my Garmin. This was really helpful because I was forced to focus on the mile I was on, rather than my race as a whole. It was like I was racing 13 one-mile races rather than a half marathon.
    With a quarter mile to go, I finally allowed myself to look at my overall time: 1:56. I had four minutes to run a quarter mile. HAZZAH! I knew I could do that! I was REALLY happy while running that final stretch. I was also wondering where Dudley was. Since we were both trying to run sub-2:00, I was hoping we'd run together. However, we got separated at an early water stop and I hadn't seen him since. I was hoping he was having a good race.
   Though that last quarter mile took forever, I finally crossed the finish line. Official time: 1:58:54.

Mission Accomplished.

   But here's the fun part. I had just crossed over the line when I received a giant bear hug from behind and a yell of "We did it!" I was a bit confused for a second before realizing it was Dudley. Apparently, he had been running behind me on the final stretch coming into the finish line and I had no idea. NO IDEA! How funny is that? We literally finished with the exact same time. What are the chances of that happening?
   
Nothing but the Blues...

   This was a fantastic race and I absolutely recommend it. I can see why it's on the bucket list for so many runners. I just wish it had been a little warmer so we could have enjoyed the festivities a little bit more. And - the swag was pretty cool, too.

Where else are you going to get a harmonica in your swag bag?  

      Of course, the kicker is now is that I have to figure out what my next running goal is. My goal for the season was sub 2:00 and I hit it on my first race of the year!  Do I go for 1:55? 1:50?  We'll see. I still want to run a full marathon this season. That might be the next big goal. Right now I'm just enjoying my PR AND that I've added another state to my list!!